By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A visibly irritated federal judge on Tuesday banned President Donald Trump's former adviser Roger Stone from posting on social media, describing him as behaving like a schoolchild unable to follow simple orders, after prosecutors accused him of violating a gag order by repeatedly discussing his case on Instagram.
"Your lawyer had to twist the facts, twist the plain meaning of the order and twist himself into a pretzel" to argue that Stone's social media posts did not violate her order, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson told Stone at a hearing.
Jackson said she would not jail Stone for violating the order, saying a contempt hearing, which could result in jail time or a fine, would only generate more media attention that could affect potential jurors down the road. The judge told Stone she could revisit her decision if he violates her orders again.
"So what am I supposed to do with you?" Jackson asked, noting she is "wrestling with behavior that has more to do with middle school than a court of law."
Stone is scheduled to go on trial in November after pleading not guilty to federal charges of making false statements to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering as part of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
"Whether the problem is that you can't follow simple orders or you won't, I need to help you out," the judge said in explaining the social media ban.
Jackson in February had ordered Stone to stop talking publicly about the case after he posted what appeared to be a threatening photo of her next to the image of gun crosshairs on his Instagram account.
Stone, a long-time Republican political strategist and self-described "agent provocateur" and "dirty trickster," is accused by prosecutors of lying to House of Representatives Intelligence Committee investigators looking into Moscow's election meddling, as well as tampering with witnesses.
During the hearing, Jackson spent about an hour painstakingly reading each of his posts aloud and asking Stone's attorney Bruce Rogow if they violated her gag order.
One post, she said, featured a photo of Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, next to a meter saying "bullSchiff." Another involved a statement Stone emailed to Buzzfeed News to deny testimony by Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen during a congressional hearing.
Jackson said Stone referred to Schiff as a "duplicitous con man" before adding: "if it's Schiff, flush it." The judge then asked if the post was in "contravention" of her order.
Rogow told Jackson he did not think any of the posts violated the judge's prior order, adding: "I am sorry the court is offended."
Mueller completed his probe in March, and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia is now handling the prosecution of Stone.
Stone has repeatedly raised Jackson's ire by making incendiary posts on Instagram and other social media platforms. At the outset of the case, Jackson imposed narrow restrictions on what Stone could say publicly after he implored her to let him discuss the case because his commentary is part of his livelihood.
Since the judge's February order, Stone has tested the limits including some posts linking to articles about the case and asking rhetorical questions. Prosecutors in June filed a motion asking Jackson to further restrain Stone from making comments that could poison the jury pool.
Jackson and the prosecutions seemed exasperated on Tuesday over claims by Stone's lawyers that search warrants used to seize evidence were improperly based on dodgy and questionable U.S. intelligence concluding that Russia hacked computers belonging to the Democratic National Committee.
"The intelligence community assessment is correct," prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky said, accusing Stone's lawyers of "trying to backdoor a debunked conspiracy theory into a straight-forward hearing."
Jackson repeatedly asked Stone lawyer Robert Buschel to point to specific supposed lies that the FBI agent made when seeking court approval for the warrants by citing the U.S. intelligence report linking Russia to the hack.
"I'm still waiting for you to tell me the lie," the judge said. "I've probably asked you this question 20 times."
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Dan Grebler, Susan Heavey and Will Dunham)